Terpenes have been widely used in the cosmetic industry for decades, due to their potent aromas. While their recognizable complex fragrances make them an easy choice to include in topical cosmetics and beauty products, do they offer benefits beyond olfactory enhancement? This article will examine the efficacy and potential therapeutic benefits of using terpenes topically.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbon molecules that fall into a class of compounds made up of linked isoprene unit chains. An isoprene is a common naturally occurring molecule abundant in nature.
Over 100 terpenes have been found in cannabis, but they are not exclusive to cannabis and are found in many other plants. Terpenes are responsible for specific plant odors, and these are often so distinctive that the terpene is named after the smell they produce.
For example, the terpene limonene produces the smell of citrus fruits, and the terpene alpha-pinene is responsible for the scent of pine trees. The scent-producing role of terpenes serves to attract or repel animals and insects, depending on the survival needs of the plant. Plants that require insects to aid in pollination may have an attractive scent, while others may produce a repellent scent to deter predators.
While terpenes play an important role in plant life, their properties do not stop at scent production. Terpenes have also been studies for their range of therapeutic effects. From anti-inflammatory (1), analgesic (2), and even anxiolytic properties (3), research shows that terpenes may be able to provide significant health benefits.
While terpenes have shown significant results when consumed orally and inhaled, they may also provide significant therapeutic benefit when used as a topical treatment.
Terpene Absorption and Delivery
The topical application of terpenes is an exciting delivery method due to its ease of use and targeted nature. However, due to the high water content of the skin, any compound that doesn’t dissolve in water has a lower chance of crossing the skin barrier and being absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a lower bioavailability.
Because of this, terpenes that cannot dissolve in water are likely to have lower bioavailability, while hydrophilic terpenes will likely be absorbed faster and at higher concentrations.
The bioavailability of terpenes may be increased by using complementary carrier solutions. For example, lipophilic terpenes should be used in a topical solution with oil to increase bioavailability (4).
Terpenes have shown successful skin penetration as a topical treatment. A 2006 study published in Planta Medica (5) found that skin penetration was observed in the terpenes linalool, citronellol, and alpha-pinene in a variety of forms (emulsion, oily solution, hydrogel). This shows the topical application of terpenes is a viable delivery method and could be an excellent option for consumers who are seeking an easy way to experience the various health effects of terpenes.
One area where terpenes hold a lot of potential is in skincare. From their low-cost extraction to year-round availability, non-cannabis botanical terpenes are easily integrated into cosmetic production, at scale.
The odor-producing qualities of terpenes are particularly desirable in skincare production. As an organic fragrance, terpenes can add an attractive scent naturally, eliminating the need for synthetic fragrances.
Terpenes may even help to fight the signs of aging. A 2015 animal study (8) found that the terpene camphor was an effective treatment against UV-induced wrinkles. While this study involved mice, it found that camphor was able to increase the expression of collagen (IA, IIIA, and IVA) and elastin, key proteins in the maintenance of skin health and youth.
Terpenes potentially offer more than just cosmetic improvements. Terpenes such as myrcene (9), humulene (10), and beta-caryophyllene (11) have demonstrated anti-cancer properties that could reduce the proliferation of skin cancer cells. Although research into the anti-cancer properties of terpenes is ongoing, it demonstrates the exciting future of terpene treatments.
Terpene Effects on the Skin:
Some terpenes that may provide benefits to skin health include:
- Myrcene: Myrcene has demonstrated antibacterial (12), anti-inflammatory (13), and analgesic (13) action that could improve the symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and acne. Early research shows myrcene may even have anti-proliferative action on cancer cells (14).
- Limonene: As the terpene responsible for the pleasant scent of citrus fruits, limonene could be an attractive addition to any skincare product. Limonene has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory action that could aid in a range of skincare conditions (15). Limonene has even shown anti-anxiety properties (16) that could help to improve many skincare conditions that are exacerbated by stress e.g. psoriasis, eczema, hives.
- Linalool: Linalool could improve many skin conditions thanks to its ability to improve pain (17), reduce inflammation (18), and act as an anti-bacterial (19).
- Alpha-caryophyllene: This terpene has demonstrated anti-inflammatory action that may be effective in improving the symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions (20).
- Beta-caryophyllene: Beta-caryophyllene is a particularly exciting terpene because of its potential to reduce cancer cell growth and proliferation. It also has analgesic properties (21) which means it could be an effective treatment for painful skin conditions such as eczema.
- Pinene: Pinene has anti-inflammatory effects (22) and a pleasant pine-scent, which could make it an effective skin-care ingredient.
- Camphor: Camphor has demonstrated an ability to improve the appearance of UV-induced wrinkles and may even improve wound healing (23).
Water-Miscible Terpenes for Topical Formulations
Because the skin contains a high percentage of water, topical terpenes will likely be more effective if they are water-soluble. Lab Effects offers a range of water-miscible terpenes that can be folded into any water-based product, potentially increasing the bioavailability and effectiveness of your topical terpene product.
Lab Effects’ water-miscible terpenes can be used in a range of applications, so whether you’re looking to create a cream or lotion, Lab Effects has the water-soluble, bioavailability enhancing solution for you.
Interested in Water-Miscible Terpenes?
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